Random Ephemera

10 Facts About America That Show We’re Not Really Free

It’s time for Independence Day, American’s annual explosion expo and hot dog eating contest. It’s the day we’re supposed to celebrate seceding from England, but it ends up becoming more of an affirmation of American exceptionalism and the freedom we fought for. I find that a little nauseating because frankly America’s freedom is largely a marketing ploy. Here’s why.

10. We Lock Up More People Than Any Other Democracy
When it comes to depriving people of their liberty to move around, the United States beats all other democracies by a wide margin. 743 out of every 100,000 Americans are in jail, and while it’s possible that Cuba and North Korea exceed us in terms of overall percentage of citizens denied freedom because of their political prisoners we should still be ashamed that we’re looking at totalitarian regimes to make it to third place. We also have the highest recidivism rate, meaning those who go to jail are more likely to return than stay out. Just so you know, blacks are nearly six times more likely to be in jail than whites, which indicates continued systemic racism in our country. Speaking of which…

9. We Keep Minorities Poor
The falling unemployment rate since the Great Recession remains cause for joy, but it comes with a caveat. Hispanics are still around 50 percent less likely to have a job and for blacks the unemployment rate is roughly double that of whites. People who can’t find a job are hardly free, but even if you do work…

8. We Take Home Less of the Wealth We Produce Than Other Countries
Once the American middle class was the strongest and richest in the world. That was 35 years ago, and it’s no longer true. Our middle class and working poor now take home less of the wealth they produce than the middle class and working poor of countries like Canada, Finland or The Netherlands. And yes, this is after taxes, so even taking into account the high tax rate of the more socialist nations Americans are getting shafted. Which is sad because…

7. We Work Like Mad
Contrary to popular belief Americans do not work more hours than any other people. We’re actually pretty close to the middle in hours worked among developed nations, but there’s a downside that is all our own. We work more night and weekend hours than anyone else. 29.2 percent say they work weekends and 26.6 percent work nights. Gallup shows that our 40-hour work week is more like a 47-hour work week. We also get the fewest vacation days of any developed nation. There’s not much freedom if all you do is work and sleep.

6. We Give All Our Money to Our Bosses
Over the last three decades the average American’s paycheck has barely risen to account for inflation. All except for the top 1 percent of Americans. Their average income has risen to $1.26 million annually, or 22 times more than literally everyone else in the country.

5. And Our Bosses Control Our Health
The United States trails behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to healthcare. We’re pretty much the last nation to not have a socialized healthcare system. We fund a private health insurance industry and for more than half of Americans that industry is supported by contributions from your employer. Despite the success of the Affordable Care Act most people are still tied to the whims of their employers when it comes to coverage, meaning that we’re less likely to leave a job that we don’t like because we’re worried that our children or ourselves might get sick if we move to another, coverage-less position or strike out on our own. Speaking of that…

4. We’re Less Able to Start Our Own Businesses
American entrepreneurship is one of those things that supposed to be a given, but a large part of that depends on how you define what entrepreneurship actually is. If you think it’s the brave individual striking out on his or her own to turn a garage company into a success story, I have bad news for you; America is terrible at that. The risks involved with making it on your own, such as a lack of medical coverage, limit the number of people who will give it a go. Nearly a quarter of the people who do only so do because they can’t find work elsewhere, the 19th worst rate of desperate entrepreneurship in the world. It’s one of the reasons…

3. Our Social Mobility Rate Sucks
Social mobility describes how likely and able someone is to rise about the level of their parents. Americans love a good rags to riches story, although if you actually go back and read any of the Horatio Alger novels that inspired that phrase you’ll see the only reason people ever rise from poverty to success is because they happen to save the drowning child of a rich man, Since we can’t all choose Aquaman as a career path we have to consider more likely scenarios. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t live up to its bootstrapping ideals. We’re ranked 13th when it comes to social mobility. The top three countries for giving average people the freedom to rise above the station of their birth are the Scandinavian socialist nations.

2. We Make Having a Baby a Ridiculous Risk
There’s no freedom without life, and America makes bringing life into the world harder than nearly every other developed nation. Half of our pregnancies in this country are unplanned and it’s largely a result of our archaic ideas regarding providing healthcare to our people. Those ideas are also why we have an embarrassing infant mortality rate. We’re also one of the last countries in the world not to federally mandate maternity leave, and paternity leave? Don’t make me laugh. In general, Americans give our families less freedom reproductively than nearly any other development nation.

1. We Still Treat Women Terribly
You can use the treatment of many minorities to prove that freedom in America is still something of a luxury for a certain class, but I like to use women for my accounting because they are a social minority instead of a numeric one. Half the country is female, and yet not a single major public or private power structure is female-majority or even female-equal. To be fair to America, no country has yet achieved gender equality, but some of this is embarrassing. In the nearly 100 years since women have won the right to vote in America only a single major female for president has ever been put forward (And Hillary Clinton’s journey from First Lady to Senator to Secretary of State is so unique I’m willing to bet it will never be replicated by anyone).

This is usually where some Men’s Power Advocate will type out a comment that American women have it much better than women in Muslim countries, but of the five most-populous Muslim-majority countries four of them have already elected female heads of state. Women make up a third of the Supreme Court, less than 20 percent of Congress and less than 15 percent of top executives. No matter how you slice is, the doors are still closed to a huge chunk of America. 

In short, we’re not really that free. The rich are free. Men are free. Whites are free. Everyone else is freeish, just like it was when this country was founded. The only thing to really celebrate is how far we’ve closed the gap between freeish and true freedom. 

Jef has a new story about robot sharks out now in Lurking in the Deep. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner